Marguerite (Davis) Eaglin was born June 8, 1920, in Waxahatchie, Texas to Orville and Leona Davis. She moved to Michigan in 1940, hitchhiking on a whim with her husband, Simon Eaglin, eventually moving to Ypsilanti. Graduating from what is now Eastern Michigan University in 1953, she became a teacher at Harriet Street Elementary. Marguerite was chosen by the Ypsilanti School District to aid in its integration and was later named chairperson of the newly established Human Relations Commission. She helped to refound and served as President of the Ypsilanti-Willow Run Branch of the NAACP and was elected second vice president of the Michigan NAACP in 1962. In 1967, Mrs. Eaglin began work as a counselor at Washtenaw Community College, later serving as faculty union president. Mrs. Eaglin passed way on December 20, 2004.
Marguerite Eaglin Interview, date unknown.
A.P. Marshall, Interviewer
(Note: The original tape of this oral history interview is missing. This transcript is a copy of A. P. Marshall’s transcript of the interview. Thus, we cannot verify the accuracy of these transcriptions. Our historians have divided it into annotated segments.)
Segment Synopsis: Mrs. Eaglin and Mr. Marsahll discuss Mrs. Eaglin’s work with the Ypsilanti Schools and how she came to be involved in reforming the local NAACP chapter in the 1950s.
Keywords:A.P. Marshall Maruerite Eaglin; Simon Eaglin; Valerie Eaglin; Ypsilanti, Michigan; School segregation in Ypsilanti; Women Civil Rights leaders; Dr. Bass; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Willow Run; Perry School; Segregation in Ypsilanti, Smith Furniture Store; Yvonne Williams; Walfred Erickson; Herbert Francois; Vanzetti Hamilton; Amos Washington;
Subjects: African Americans–Michigan–Ypsilanti–History. Segregation–Michigan–Ypsilanti–History. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Hyperlink: Read Mrs. Eaglin’s fine obituary.
MARSHALL: When did you come to Ypsilanti?
EAGLIN: I came to Ypsilanti in 1943. We lived in Ann Arbor at first.
MARSHALL: Where were your children born?
EAGLIN: The two boys were born in Ann Arbor. My daughter was born in Ypsilanti.
MARSHALL: When you came here, what kind of work did you do?
EAGLIN: I was a housewife.
MARSHALL: Did you start going to school somewhere around that time?
EAGLIN: Yes. I started going to Eastern first and then I went to the University of Michigan.
MARSHALL: When did you get interested in the NAACP?
EAGLIN: It must have been around 1958 or 1959.
MARSHALL: Why did you become involved in the NAACP?
EAGLIN: Do you mean the NAACP versus any other civil rights movement, or any of them?
MARSHALL: Speaking of the civil rights movement in general, what started your interest in it around 1958?
EAGLIN: One of the main tenets of my life is that you make a contribution to the place you live and it will only be as good as what the people there do to help it along. We had three children in school here and I was also in the public schools. There were just so many problems in this town that needed to be worked on. The charter for the NAACP had been lost in Ypsilanti. The year before, Dr. Bass and Francois had worked to try to get enough memberships to get the charter back. They collected some memberships, but they were never sent in. When I became active in it, Dr. Bass and I started working to get it going again. When we contacted Francois, he had all of the money and the memberships that had been taken up the year before but not sent in. We gathered some others and added to that, and sent them in. Then we had enough to get our charter back. I am very much concerned for my people and their families. That’s just a natural part of me. My own personal interest in this developed considering my own family, the children in the community that I taught, and the activities that I took part in (at the time I was a teacher at Perry Elementary School). It was just a natural outgrowth. When we went downtown, we’d see that the only black people that had jobs were janitors and people like that. There was one maid in one of the furniture stores, and that was it.
MARSHALL: Was that the store out on Michigan Avenue?
EAGLIN: No, it was Smith Furniture. That was before they opened that other store on Michigan Avenue.
MARSHALL: Then the absence of blacks in some of those key places downtown helped to keep your interest.
EAGLIN: Yes, and the fact that because I was black, there were restaurants downtown that didn’t want us to come and eat. My children told me the story about how good Haab’s french fries were, but they had to stand outside and buy them from the window if they wanted any. I wasn’t aware of that. My friend Yvonne Williams and I would go downtown for lunch and we’d go into a place and sit and sit and sit. I was teaching school, so I only had so much time for lunch. Nobody actively insulted us, but they just didn’t wait on us. They just ignored us like we weren’t there. Finally in one place, I said, “Look, I have to go back to school. Do you know when we could get served, please?” They finally served us, but they burned the bread. We stood our ground; we wouldn’t move. Yvonne still talks about that! We would go to different places, and finally they began to come around. A lot of them didn’t know what to do. So even though they didn’t really want us, I’d have to say that I was never really turned out of any place downtown. They burned my bread or made me wait a long time, but none of them really put me out. I was never refused.
MARSHALL: That was kind of an aftermath of the civil rights movement that started down south?
EAGLIN: I guess so. I guess the whole activity moved across the country, and ours was the same. We started looking at our problems, and people began searching for a leader who could help them.
MARSHALL: When the restaurant situation started, did that interest lead you to something else?
EAGLIN: The restaurant situation was my own personal battle. Once we got the NAACP organized, then it was a group effort. As complaints came in and as they asked us to look into different things, then we did. Activities did not always center around outside complaints. We lived here and we knew what some of the problems were, so we just planned our agenda around them. We were also politically interested in everything that took place. As president of the NAACP, I found that I got a lot of information from people in high places who would call me quietly and tell me what was going on. I guess it was because I didn’t abuse their trust. I used the information without pointing a finger at the individual, so people always came out and told me everything. One of the things that we were really concerned about was employment. Of course, you would have to take tests. We would send people down to the NEFC to take tests, and everybody was failing, so I started to look in other places and we started to compare notes with other communities. We found that people were shortening the time when my people came to the desk. Once this was brought to my attention, I got a watch for everybody. Even if they didn’t have one, I borrowed one. Then I personally spent my own money and delivered them down to take the test. We found that they were seating people out in the public lobby and giving them a test when people were coming in. Of course you can’t pass a test like that, so that was invalidating it. People who went to take the test didn’t know enough about testing situations, so they didn’t realize that that was why they were failing until I went down and started checking on it. After we got it straightened out so that they didn’t take tests in the lobby anymore, they took them into the little rooms so I couldn’t see what was going on anymore. So I got a group together and told them to check their watches and mark down the time on a piece of scratch paper. They brought me the scratch paper and sure enough, the time was very short. When I compared the times of the blacks with different whites, I found that the blacks didn’t have that kind of time. There were all kinds of little subtleties people used to get around it. I took so many people down to get tested, in one month our gas bill was $105 (gas was very cheap then too). None of this came from the NAACP; it came from the Eaglins’ pocket. I decided that was a little too much. My son worked with us for a while. I guess the whole town worked with us off and on at some particular point. But he worked with us in the employment area. I remember taking some people downtown to this place where you parked in the parking lot between Adams and Washington and went in through the back door. I went in and talked to the man. The man really wanted to hire Negroes, but he was scared. He was afraid to say no to us for fear of what blacks would say, and he was afraid to say yes for fear of what whites would say. So many of the whites that wanted to were caught on the horns of a dilemma out of a fear which was real to them. So we had a time in this town. We learned many, many things. I sent people in to take tests at the dime store which used to be on the corner, and they said that they failed it. I said, “What do you mean they failed it? What kind of test do you give? This job requires only simple addition and subtraction. These are high school students and I know they can add and subtract.” A very prominent person, whose name I will not call, a white person, told me that they had just taken an Italian girl in after she had passed the test. We had all kinds of situations like this taking place. Around that same time, they began setting up a human relations commission. Of course I was a charter member.
MARSHALL: How many members were black?
EAGLIN: Vanzetti Hamilton was on to. I’m not sure whether he was a charter member, but he was a member.
MARSHALL: Was my predecessor, Walfred Erickson, a charter member? At one time he told me that he was a chairman of the commission.
EAGLIN: I remember his being on, but I don’t remember if he was a chairman.
MARSHALL: These were marginal appointees. Were they not approved by the council?
MARSHALL: Do you remember the year?
EAGLIN: It was around 1958 or 1959. It was patterned after the Ann Arbor group. It was divided so that we could do no less then Ann Arbor, so our commission was set up by the council. It was not designed to move us forward. It was designed to shut us up and keep us confined. But they put the wrong person on when they put me on.
MARSHALL: What were some of the subjects with which the commission became involved?
EAGLIN: Real estate.